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Manual Worlds Apart: a Singapore love story

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As a young man, my father became a partner with Clouet and did very well. In , when Victor was 26 and already successful in business, he asked Abraham and Rosa for permission to marry their eldest daughter, Marie. It had over two hundred acres of coconut and rubber plantations. Of course, the rubber became extremely valuable during the wars and the Frankels became even wealthier.

Every Sunday we would go to Siglap for tiffin a British colonial term for a lunch or light meal.

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There was a grand dining room with a long table that seated twenty people. Servants would wait on us, bringing us the curries and Malaysian delicacies we loved so well.

One servant, the punkah wallah, had to stand there endlessly, poor fellow, tugging on a rope which pulled the punkah ceiling fan across the ceiling to keep a breeze going for us in the hot humid air. When my parents, Victor and Marie, got married, Abraham bought them a onefloor cottage on Orchard Avenue as a wedding present.

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A Singapore Love Story

I was born a year later, when my mother was just seventeen. We lived in the cottage until I was seven. My parents had three of their six children while we lived there. The cottage was built on pillars, with high ceilings to help keep us cool in the tropical climate. We children used to play under the house, but awful turkeys would come after us. The geckos also gave me a fright. They were always climbing the walls and ceilings silently. We have bought a lovely house just a few blocks away and I know you children are going to like it.

We were so excited! We ran up to the main house, where German men were watching us from the verandah. Of course they laughed. But now it is still our house and we want you out of our garden!

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My parents called our new estate, Warringa Hill. I had a room and a sitting room with windows opening out to the garden. I loved to hear the birds, the parrots and kookaburras, calling to each other. I could smell the fragrant jasmine drifting through my window. We lived such a charmed life. We had amahs, servants and Chinese cooks who did everything for us.

It was a life of leisure. As children, we would play lawn tennis and swim in the sea. The men would go to horse races and cricket matches. We danced in the grand ballroom at the Raffles Hotel, with the gorgeous chandeliers. The prominent Jews formed a tight community and were included in high society. He even danced with my Aunt Esther, who was twenty-one at the time and very vivacious. It was a high point in her life. We took our first trip to San Francisco for a holiday the following year.

Asian Jewish Life – Cover Story – Worlds Apart in Singapore – Issue 15 – Asian Jewish Life

We thought it was barbaric and filled with cowboys and Indians. My youngest sister, Joyce, was just two months old. Imagine us marching into the posh Fairmont Hotel where we were staying. I celebrated my seventeenth birthday on that trip to San Francisco. Einstein was on his way to Japan to deliver a series of lectures and Chaim Weizmann, a leader of Zionism, asked him to stop in Singapore to fundraise for the creation of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This was just before he received the Nobel Prize. Many of my family attended. When the Einsteins came back on their return trip, my grandparents gave them a tour of Siglap and he marveled at all the beautiful trees.

I married Charlie Ginsburg, who was fifteen years older than me, when I was twenty. We shared a love of literature and I always enjoyed talking with him. We had our three children in Singapore and would have stayed on, but Charlie suffered from manic-depression and the doctors thought the tropical climate was bad for that condition. We used to go to Switzerland for cures, but since San Francisco has such a mild climate and we already had family here, we went there instead in We fell in love with this beautiful city and decided to make it our home. The transition from our life in Singapore was easy, because San Francisco is such a world-class city.

Auntie Esther, married to Lester Goodman, was able to continue her high-society lifestyle by living at the Top of the Mark, a penthouse at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco. For decades their portrait hung in the lobby. Esther was a flamboyant andlegendary socialite.

A Singapore Love Story

Then the war came. The Holocaust caught us completely unaware. We were living the life of luxury, while so many were tortured and killed. We later found out they had all perished in a concentration camp. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor too came as a complete shock. I remember my husband running to tell me with his face half covered in shaving cream, because the radio program had been interrupted with the announcement. Thankfully, there were only a few of our family left in Singapore when the Japanese invaded there.

When they took over Singapore, they massacred people, threw others in internment camps and torpedoed ships filled with people trying desperately to escape. My brother Ned was still living there, running Clouet and Company. He had learned to fly planes for recreation, so he joined the RAF and flew planes to help evacuate women and children. In Sumatra, Ned stopped to help someone with a stalled car and saw that the car was filled with sardine cans, because people had been told to take as many non-perishables with them as possible.

No one knew how Singapore was going to get through those dreadful times. In , Lord Louis Mountbatten was in the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka, gathering a flotilla of battleships because they wanted to take Singapore away from the Japanese. When the Japanese left Singapore, Ned was made Provisional Governor to help put things back in order. During the occupation, the Japanese had taken over the houses and Singapore was in shambles.

Ned discovered that the Japanese had used his own house as a news agency during the war. They left behind an old Hebrew prayer book that our mother had given him many years before and thankfully had not damaged it. Rosa, my grandmother, had flatly refused to ever leave Singapore, even though we begged her to join us in San Francisco. There she was at age 93, almost blind from cataracts, still living at Siglap when the Japanese first attacked in Anna, one of her daughters, lived next door with her husband to help care for her. We all thought that if the Japanese did attack Singapore, they would attack from the sea.

We telegrammed them to go inland to another house the family owned, to be safer.

They moved to the center of town and as fate would have it, that house was one of the first to be bombed. Anna was injured when the tile roof collapsed on her. Later we found out that the Japanese were probably aimingfor the house behind them, because it belonged to a British Admiral.


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Worlds Apart was first published in But love is not the only theme here. The novel also takes us through the lanes and alleys of meritocratic Singapore in In a society where great opportunities await the talented and industrious, medical student Patrick Lee would discover that his academic success and immense potential would ultimately stand in his way if he happens to fall in love with someone worlds apart.

The book retains a truly homely, boy-next-door feel to it, creating a sense of deja vu for the reader. It is the hope of most writers to capture the nuances of the Everyman.

Worlds Apart has some commendable elements and succeeds best in its bald statements of some typical Singaporean values.